For many parents, childhood summers were spent outside and on the move. We biked around the neighborhood, swam at the local pool, caught bullfrogs at the pond, and even built forts in the woods. Often it wasn’t until we were called home for dinner that we finally went back inside.
Today things are different. Kids spend their days indoors far more than their parents did, with recent studies showing kids spend only four to seven minutes a day of unstructured playtime outside—whether it’s tossing around a ball, drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, or catching fireflies.
Kids Have Become Plugged-in Indoors. As children spend an average of over seven hours a dayon phones, tablets, laptops and TVs, childhood obesity has skyrocketed and more children are being treated for attention problems, anxiety and depression.
A term widely used to describe this disconnection between kids and the outdoors is “nature deficit disorder,” coined by writer Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. Louv argued that certain physical and behavioral problems could be caused by the sharp decline in how little time children now spend outdoors.
The good news is that children who are engaged in outdoor playtime are in better physical shape, are more focused in school, and are just happier kids. So how can you get your kids connected with nature? Luckily there are many great ways, places and programs your family can get involved with now!
Get Outside with Summer Camp. Summer camp can be defined in so many ways. It can be a day camp offering varied activities for a half-day or full-day throughout the week. Or it can be a specialty camp, such as a nature camp, sports camp or 7-day canoe adventure. Either way, camp provides an opportunity for your kids to unplug, get outside and get moving, through safe playtime and socialization with their peers.
Karen Murphy, Director of Camp UMLY, one of Pennsylvania’s largest camp programs, encourages families to find a program with variety. “A camp that offers programs in the arts, sports, nature and more provides an opportunity for your child to find a special passion.”
Make Outdoor Time Part of Family Time.Our community is filled with green spaces waiting for families to hike, bike and explore. The list includes large parks like Valley Forge and Ridley Creek State Park, to smaller gems like Exton Park and Okehocking Preserve. Anywhere in our community, in under a five-minute drive, you and your kids can be on the trails!
Your family doesn’t even have to stray from your own yard to connect with nature. Just create a family garden. Kids like dirt! When your kids see you digging in, they’ll join in on the fun. Gardens are a great way for children to make a connection with where their veggies come from and maybe, just maybe, grow to like eating them, too.
Bring Tech Into Nature.Yes, the goal is to disconnect from the digital world a little more, but there are some really engaging ways families and children can use tech in the great outdoors.
Jeff Scott, Environmental Education Director at Upper Main Line YMCA, recently reviewed the National Wildlife Federation’s “Top 25 Nature and Wildlife Apps” and found the apps are a way for families to transition from being inside and behind a screen to getting outside and active. “There is an app for everything. What better way to reconnect people with nature than with the technology they are already using!”
Kids today have many easy and fun ways to stay plugged-in inside. This summer, start getting your child reconnected with nature. It’s as easy as opening your front door and stepping outside!